CNS Unemployment Reporting: The Pandemic Flip-Out, Part 2
In the last half of 2020, CNSNews.com continued to try and put a pro-Trump spin on U.S. unemployment numbers ... until it decided not to.
By Terry Krepel
In the first part of this series, ConWebWatch looked at how CNSNews.com spun unemployment numbers during the pandemic to make President Trump at least somewhat good. In this part we examine how those numbers were reported from mid-2020 to the end of Trump's presidency, when it continued to push that pro-Trump rah-rah -- until it didn't.
As a pro-Trump media outlet, CNSNews.com is compelled to make the unemployment numbers as good as possible in service of President Trump. Susan Jones was in full embellishment mode for her lead article on June's unemployment numbers:
As America reopens, the economy is recovering from the devastating employment snapshot recorded in April and May, and while the numbers released today show improvement, they're still far from the many records set under Trump.
Jones made no mention of the BLS' classification errors that should have made the unemployment rates for April and May even higher than they were.
As usual, CNS served up sidebars on government employment and Hispanic employment. These articles also failed to mention the BLS' classification error affecting the numbers, nor did it tell readers what the "real unemployment rate" was, even though that U-6 rate (18.0 percent) is much higher than it was under the Obama administration, a time when CNS last regularly reported it.
Instead, CNS did an article on Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pointing out that Trump needs to demonstrate "real leadership" by working with Democrats to pass a relief bill, which Craig Bannister chose to interpret as Schumer demanding that "Senate Republicans give Democrats what they want" -- blithely ignoring the fact that Americans are in need of further economic relief.
For its coverage of July's unemployment numbers, CNS made sure to shill for President Trump. In her lead story, Jones conceded that improvement has slowed, but she also wants to remind us how great Trump made things before the pandemic:
It's been almost five months since the emerging COVID pandemic crashed what had been a strong and record-breaking employment streak under President Donald Trump.
It wasn't until the sixth paragraph that she got around to mentioning the number that matters: the unemployment rate.
Again, none of these CNS articles reported the "real unemployment rate" -- the U-6 rate that includes "marginally attached" employees as well as part-time workers seeking full-time work -- despite the fact it was a favorite metric when President Obama was in office. (It was 16.8 percent in July.)
August's unemployment numbers were decent enough that Jones' lead article did some aggressive gushing -- while, of course, working in how the economy was great before the pandemic:
Here's some encouraging news heading into the Labor Day weekend: The number of employed Americans increased for a fourth straight month in August, as 3,756,000 more Americans either returned to or joined the labor force, according to the monthly report produced by the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Needless to say, Jones made no mention of the "real unemployment rate" metric it loved pushing when a Democrat was president, and she gave a pass for the labor force participation rate being relatively low that she rarely gave though the reason -- retiring baby boomers -- was the same for it being relatively low under President Obama.
You know the unemployment numbers are bad when the aggressive pro-Trump spinners at CNS couldn't find a way to go all rah-rah over them. Note the dejected tone of Jones' lead article on the September numbers, where even her pro-Trump spin is labored and sadly nostalgic:
As more of the nation's economy opens amid the coronavirus pandemic, the September employment shows a fifth straight month of progress, but it's meager progress at best.
The authors of the sidebars couldn't do much better. Jeffrey wrote that "The United States added 66,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector in the month of September, but that still left the nation with 647,000 fewer manufacturing jobs then it had in February when the COVID-19 pandemic struck,"conceding that "When President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, there were 12,369,000 manufacturing jobs in the United States. The September count of 12,205,000 was 164,000 behind that."
Bannister did a little better in his report on Hispanic unemployment, but still had to admit that "The 10.3% national, seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate for Hispanics and Latinos in August fell by 0.2 percentage points from August’s 10.5% level and 8.6 points from the record-high of 18.9% set in April, but remained well above March’s 6.0% mark."
Jones did her best to put a positive pro-Trump spin on October's employment numbers under the headline "Post-Election Gains":
October marked the sixth straight month of post-pandemic employment gains, as the economy added 638,000 jobs and the nation's unemployment rate dropped to 6.9 percent, a point below September's 7.9 percent and far lower than the record-shattering, COVID-induced 14.7 percent in April.
Jones also noted the low labor force participation rate, but was quick to explain it away, something she rarely did when Barack Obama was president: "BLS notes that this "not in the labor force" number has been steadily increasing in recent years as more baby boomers retire, and certainly the COVID-related business closures have accelerated the increase as more people drop out of the workforce."
CNS also served up the usual sidebars. Bannister tried for pro-Trump rah-rah by claiming that "The unemployment rate for Hispanics and Latinos improved for the sixth consecutive month in October as the nation’s businesses continued reopening from the coronavirus-prompted shutdown." Government-hating Jeffrey, meanwhile, gloated that "The number of people working for government in the United States declined by 268,000 in October even as overall employment in nation increased," then had to admit, "The decline of government workers occurred as temporary Census workers were let go and employment dropped in government schools."
CNS' efforts to spin November's unemployment numbers began early, with a Dec. 1 article by Melanie Arter that "More than half of the 22 million jobs lost in March and April due to COVID-19 shutdowns have been regained, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell told the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee on Tuesday." Arter uncritically repeated Powell's claims that the Federal Reserve Board took "forceful actions to provide relief and stability, to ensure that the recovery will be as strong as possible, and to limit lasting damage to the economy."
When the numbers for November came out a few days later and looked, well, not very good for CNS' pro-Trump purposes, Susan Jones started off with an unusually downbeat main story:
As COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths rise in this country, the nation's labor force awaits mass vaccination. In the meantime, some states are now ordering another round of business shutdowns, a burden that falls heavily on bars, restaurants and other small businesses that have had to lay off workers.
Jones even had to concede that while the unemployment rate dropped, it was because people dropped out of the labor force.
The number of manufacturing jobs -- the focus of Jeffrey's usual sidebar -- showed anemic growth, so much so that Jeffrey didn't outright state what that number was and instead touted how "The United States has added 764,000 manufacturing jobs since jobs in that sector hit a pandemic-era low in April of this year." Bannister's sidebar was the only one that was upbeat, proclaiming that "The unemployment rate for Hispanics and Latinos improved for the seventh consecutive month in November as the nation’s businesses continued reopening from the coronavirus-prompted shutdown."
But that clearly wasn't enough pro-Trump rah-rah for CNS. That would seem to explain Jeffrey's cherry-picking follow-up article desperately spinning the numbers by comparing them to, um, Obama's first term:
The 6.7 percent unemployment rate that the United States had in November was lower than the unemployment rate for any month during President Barack Obama’s first four years in office, according to the data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Jeffrey failed to acknowledge that there is a huge difference between a major recession and a pandemic-driven shutdown.
CNS may have been shocked into balance after the Trump-instigated Jan. 6 Capitol riot, if its coverage of the unemployment numbers for the last full month of Donald Trump's presidency -- which were released two days after the riot -- was any indication. Susan Jones served up the opposite of her usual pro-Trump rah-rah in her main article, which carried the unusually truthful (for CNS) headline "Final Employment Report of Trump Presidency Is Worse Than When He Started":
The final, lackluster jobs/employment report of Donald Trump's presidency shows the lingering effects of the year-long and continuing COVID pandemic.
The only sidebar this time was the usual one by Jeffrey cheering that "The number of people employed by government in the United States dropped from 22,679,000 in December 2019 to 21,401,000 in December 2020, a decline of 1,278,000." While Jeffrey typically cheers declines in government employment, the accompanying chart showed what Jeffrey couldn't bring himself to say out loud: that the decrease was driven by the pandemic.
A surprisingly downbeat end for coverage that for much of the past four years was filled with so much Trump sycophancy.